The Vikings Finally Changed Their Type to Upgrade Their O-Line

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee (USA TODAY Sports)

So the Minnesota Vikings are on the clock at 14, having just been sniped on a falling Rashawn Slater by the equally OL-starved Los Angeles Chargers. However, Alijah Vera-Tucker is still on the board. He is the epitome of what Minnesota has recently tried to stock its offensive line with: top-end athleticism (as evidenced by a 9.8 Relative Athletic Score that would rank top-five in either the guard or tackle) and the position flexibility of an experienced tackle with the tools to succeed inside as well.

And then Trader Rick did what he does, and my visions of the next Randall McDaniel went poof.

Fortunately, Rick Spielman is a much more patient man than I. Only one offensive lineman went off the board over the next eight picks, Alex Leatherwood in a mini reach to the Las Vegas Raiders at 17. That put the Vikings back on the clock at 23, with two extra third-round picks in their back pocket and the same personnel needs they faced at 14.

Would the Vikings satiate Mike Zimmer with a defensive pick? Would they reach for one of the remaining tackles who were more typical of their type? Would Spielman trade back again and continue his quantity-over-quality trend of stockpiling Day 3 selections?

Would Minnesota’s move be dumb? Or dumber?

Well, yes.

The Vikings selected massive 6’4″, 322 lb. offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw to fill the hole left by Riley Reiff’s departure. While among the names regularly mocked to Minnesota in the ramp-up to the 2021 NFL Draft, Darrisaw was hardly the prototypical Vikings offensive lineman.

Not that Darrisaw isn’t athletic. Even the most negative comments about his athleticism were of the “doesn’t have elite lateral quickness” or “lacks quick, fluid footwork off the edge” ilk. That hardly paints a picture of an immobile player.

Darrisaw also carries 15-20 more pounds than what Vikings fans are used to seeing along their offensive line, making his nimble feet all the more impressive considering they’re attached to such a ginormous mass of humanity.

Picturing Spielman selling Zimmer on this pick in the draft room, if that was even necessary, I’m sure Rick pointed out Darrisaw’s experience in the zone scheme and dominance as a run blocker. That Darrisaw didn’t allow a sack or QB hit last year probably doesn’t even matter to a coach who wants to run the ball on every down — but it will surely come in handy when Kirk Cousins drops back to pass.

So instead of going a different (defensive) direction on Day 1 and hoping to add another uber-athletic offensive lineman into the mix (think Sam Cosmi, Liam Eichenberg, or Brady Christensen), the Vikings planted a flag with an experienced (2,319 of 2,320 college snaps at LT, according to Pro Football Focus) left tackle capable of physically dominating in both the running and passing games.

If that wasn’t enough to make a guy forget his man-crush on AVT, how the Vikings followed up the Darrisaw pick on Day 2 all but wadded up those love letters and tossed ‘em in the trash can.

After tabbing Kellen Mond as their developmental quarterback of the future and scratching Zimmer’s defensive itch with linebacker Chazz Surratt (who can personally attest to Darrisaw’s blocking ability), Minnesota made a pick that, if all goes according to plan, will patch up the other hole in its offensive line.

And once again they went off-script to do so. In a good way.

Wyatt Davis was considered by many to be a first-round prospect heading into the last season. While he was again named an All-American while helping Ohio State to the national championship game, his draft stock dipped a bit. He also carries a little more weight (315 lbs.) than the Vikings have been trotting out at guard, and his scouting reports include more issues succeeding on the move and at the second level than you might want from a guard being employed in a zone scheme.

But anyone who has all too frequently seen guard after guard shoved back into Kirk Cousins’ lap has to love scouting report entries such as “has the anchor to handle his work in pass protection” (Lance Zierlein) or “almost never loses one-on-one in pass protection” (PFF). Athleticism along the interior line is nice and all, but going that direction hasn’t worked for a couple of seasons; respect to the Vikings for opting to try a little more “sand in the pants” (one of the more intriguing draft terms and yet really uncomfortable when you think about it).

It’s not too early to project both Darrisaw and Davis as starters along the Vikings’ offensive line; perhaps the only decision to be made is if Davis remains on the right side, where all 1,713 of his college snaps came, and the Vikings move Ezra Cleveland (again) to left guard.

Personally, given that Davis is renowned for finishing his blocks, and that’s one of the knocks on Darrisaw, I’d like to see them paired up in hopes that some of Davis’ nasty rubs off on Darrisaw. Just how the line shapes up from left to right is certainly something to watch as the Vikings assemble the pieces for next season.

But the biggest takeaway for me from the 2021 draft is that, while Rick Spielman can’t help himself when it comes to trading down, he’s at least willing to take a different approach from the one that over the past seven years has produced an average PFF ranking of 18.8 in run blocking and 25.8 in pass protection.

And if Darrisaw and Davis live up to expectations, this time next year, Vikings fans can wring their collective hands over another need for a change.

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